Category Archives: Christmas

Mince Pies: The Taste of Christmas

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Mince pies are among my favourite Christmas treats. When I first came across mince pies, shortly after moving here from France, I was intrigued by the name: did these crazy Brits really eat sweetened meat? A quick Google search reassured me that this wasn’t the case anymore, and only the suet remained from what was originally a meat-based dish. Vegetable suet can of course be substituted if you prefer.

Baking mince pies has to be the best way to spend a cold December afternoon; it is a real joy to bring the lovely, golden pies out of the oven and it makes the whole house smell of Christmas!
This recipe makes more mincemeat than you need. Store the remainder in sterilized jars and keep for another baking session; or decorate the jars with pretty labels to make a lovely home-made gift!

You will need (for 24 mince pies) :

For the mincemeat:

250g Bramley apples, peeled and grated
100g sultanas
60g currants
70g dried cranberries
180g raisins
110g chopped mixed peel
30g chopped almonds (optional)
4tbsp brandy
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp mixed spice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
170g dark muscovado sugar
120g shredded vegetable suet

For the pastry:

450g plain flour
230g cold butter, diced
Juice and grated zest of 1 orange
1 beaten egg
Icing sugar

Method:

Make the mincemeat:

In a large saucepan, combine the apple, dried fruit, peel, almonds, alcohol, zest, juices, and spices. Cook over a low heat, stirring regularly, until the mix is fairly dry and the dried fruit has plumped up (this should take 45 min to 1h).

Leave to cool, then mix in the suet and muscovado sugar.

Make the pastry:

To make by hand, rub the flour into the butter until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs, add the zest and juice and bring together into a ball ( add a bit of iced water if necessary).
Alternatively use a food processor: mix the flour and butter until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs, then add the zest and juice and mix again until it comes together, adding a bit of iced water if necessary. Knead lightly a couple of times.
Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 15 to 20 min.

Assemble the mince pies:

PrehEeat the oven to 190*C/ fan 170*C/ Gas 5. Cut the pastry into 2 pieces, about one third to two thirds.
Roll out the larger piece (leave the other piece in the fridge) on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of about 3 mm. With an 8 cm round fluted cutter, stamp out 24 bases and use them to line 2 12-hole mince pie tins, or patty tins ( you will need to re-roll the trimmings).
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Fill each pastry case with about 1 tbsp mincemeat.
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Roll out the rest of the pastry as before, and cut out 24 lids with a 7 cm cutter.
Brush the edges of the pastry cases with water, then press a lid down on each base, sealing well.
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Make 3 slits in each pie top with a sharp knife, then brush with some beaten egg and bake for about 20 min or until nice and golden.
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Cool for 10 min in the tins, then remove to a wire rack and dredge with icing sugar.

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Filed under Bakes, Cakes, Christmas, Desserts, Pastry, Pies, Sweet Tarts

Chocolate Charlotte

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I made this as a treat for Mr Greedy Frog and my father-in-law on Father’s day (which shows how long it took me to actually post this recipe!).

This recipe has been in my family for a long time; my grandmother used to make a bit of extra money by helping a local caterer with food preparation, and this is one of the recipes she learnt in this job. Her boss was renowned for her Chocolate Charlotte, and for every event she catered for, they would make a large number of these. This was in the days before food processors and other gadget went mainstream, so a strong arm was essential to cream all this butter and sugar!

I am taking what my grandmother would see as an easy way out: I use my beloved KitchenAid for this recipe; if you are doing it by hand, make sure you don’t cut corners during the creaming stage or the end result will be a bit grainy.

*Warning: This dessert contains raw eggs and a teeny bit of alcohol, so if you are pregnant you will need to bookmark it for later; if you are a teetotaller you can try using rosewater, or maybe coffee extract.

You will need (for 6 to 8 portions):

125 g butter
125 g caster sugar
125 g good quality dark chocolate
4 eggs
300g to 400g sponge fingers (depending on size)
4 tbsp dark rhum

Method:

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until smooth.

Separate the eggs; keep the whites for later and add the yolks to the preparation.

Melt the chocolate then add to the bowl. Whisk the egg whites until stiff and add to the rest of the preparation.

In a shallow dish, mix the rhum with 4 tbsp water. Quickly dip the sponge fingers in the rhum, then use them to line your Charlotte tin (or a pudding basin). Tip in half the chocolate mixture.

Add another layer of sponge fingers, then the rest of the mixture.
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Finish with another layer of sponge fingers. Cover with a small plate slightly smaller than the tin, and press down firmly. Refrigerate for 6 to 8 hours.

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Filed under Cakes, Christmas, Desserts

Let’s Start 2013 In Style: Chocolate Orange Tart

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If you want to impress the in-laws, or your best friend, next time they come for dinner, but you are not sure what to make, read on…

When I first produced this tart at the end of a meal, it was greeted with “ooohs” and “aaahs” and guests saying that really, I shouldn’t have gone to so much trouble, it looked fabulous, etc. In this situation, and regardless of how many hours you have been slaving away in the kitchen, social etiquette demands that your response should be along the lines of: ” oh, it was no trouble at all, it is actually very easy to make, really!”.  Which is pretty much what I said to my guests that day; but you know what? I wasn’t even lying!

This tart is really easy to make. The filling just needs mixing before baking, so no risk of curdling egg yolks while trying to make a custard-based filling. The pastry demands a little bit more care, as it is closer to a cookie dough than to traditional pastry, but as long as you keep it nice and chilled it should behave obediently enough.

I have borrowed the recipe for the pastry from Jamie Oliver’s “Fifteen Chocolate Tart” recipe. I love this chocolate tart more than words can express, but as I am still in a bit of a post-holiday chocolate hangover, I decided to go for something a bit lighter and fresher than chocolate on chocolate. I have evolved the filling from a lemon tart recipe I copied out years ago; I obviously replaced the lemon with oranges, upped the juice content a bit and added zest for a stronger citrus flavour.

The chocolate decoration is just there to make it look a bit fancier (and it works!), I just wish I had a steadier hand when wielding a piping bag; the picture below is proof that I am no artist… 🙂  New resolution for 2013: practice my piping.

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You will need (for 6 to 8 people):

For the pastry:
325g unsalted butter
225g caster sugar
Pinch salt
565g plain flour
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
3 large eggs
65g cocoa powder

For the filling:
5 eggs
140g caster sugar
150 ml double cream
100 ml freshly squeezed orange juice (from about 1 1/2 oranges)
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated.

Optional: 50g dark chocolate, for decorating.

Method:

Butter a 28 cm Ø loose-bottomed tart tin.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and salt, then fold in the flour, eggs, zest, and cocoa powder (you can do this by hand or with a food processor, but this makes quite a lot of pastry so your food processor needs to be a large one).

When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, gently bring it together until you have a ball  of dough. Do not knead it too much or it will become chewy. Flour the dough lightly, then wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Remove from the fridge, roll out to the desired size, and carefully line your tart tin with it (any tears can be easily repaired by patching up with offcuts, lightly brushed with water then pressed down over the cracks). Put the lined tin in the freezer for 30 min.

Preheat the oven to 200ºC/ fan 180ºC/ Gas 6. Bake the pastry for around 12-15 minutes or until it is firm and almost biscuit-like, then remove it and leave to cool while you make the filling.

Turn the oven down to 160ºC/fan 140ºC/Gas 3.

To make the filling, beat all the ingredients, except for the zest, together. Sieve the mixture into a large jug, then stir in the zest.

Pull the middle shelf half-out of the oven, and place the tart tin on it. Carefully pour the filling into the pastry case, taking care that it stops a few millimetres below the edge of the pastry. Gently push the shelf back in. Bake for 30-35 min until just set.

Leave to cool to room temperature, then carefully remove the tart from the tin.

For the decoration, melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl placed over a pan of simmering water (take care that the bowl doesn’t touch the water). Immediately transfer the melted chocolate to a piping bag fitted with a nozzle with a small, plain opening, and pipe criss-crossing patterns onto the tart. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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Filed under Bakes, Christmas, Desserts, Sweet Tarts

The Tart, the Party, and the Christmas Tree Dress (Caramelised Onions, Peppers and Chorizo Tart)

 Last weekend, I had a work Christmas party to go to. I know a lot of people would rather gouge their own eyes out rather than attend the work party, but this is not the case here. I am lucky enough to be working with great people who are really, really fun to be around. We all decided a few weeks ago that we would go out and make the most of the happy hour, then head back to our manager’s place for food and a lot more drinks. We also decided that we would be wearing Christmas-themed costumes… it sounds like a recipe for disaster, right?

Well, in any case it explains how I ended up going out in Newcastle on a Saturday night wearing a Christmas tree dress. Yes, that’s right, a Christmas tree dress. In my defence, it actually looks a lot better than it sounds. And after a few drinks I thought it was hilarious that I seemed to be leaving a trail of tinsel behind me everywhere I went… 

But anyway, the point of this post is the food, not my sparkly sartorial adventures. I needed to come up with the perfect recipe to bring along to the party. It had to be freezer-friendly, as I knew I wouldn’t have time to make it on the day; I wanted it to appeal to a wide audience, and be easy to transport. A savoury tart seemed like a good option, and after much deliberation I finally settled on a caramelised onions and peppers filling, and added chorizo for some extra flavour.

This tart went down a treat and it was eaten in no time at all. In fact I wish I had made two! Unfortunately, when the tart was served I was a bit tipsy busy, and didn’t get to take a picture. Sorry…

Don’t be put off by the anchovies in the ingredients list if you don’t like them; they are only there to balance out the sweetness of the peppers and onions, and you won’t be able to taste them (Mr Greedy Frog hates anchovies, so I didn’t tell him they featured in this recipe, and he happily ate up the produce of my test runs without noticing a thing…)

You will need (for 6-8 people):

For the pastry:

300 g plain flour
150 g butter
Pinch salt
cold water

For the filling:

4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp tomato puree
2 anchovy fillets in olive oil
4 red onions
8 bell peppers (a mix of red and yellow looks best but green is fine too)
2 garlic cloves
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
150g chorizo
salt, pepper

Method:

Make the pastry. In a large bowl, add a pinch of salt and the butter to the flour. Work the flour into the butter between your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add enough cold water to bind, knead briefly then form into a ball (you can of course use a food processor instead if you prefer). Wrap in cling film then chill for 20 min.

Preheat the oven to 200C/ fan 180C/ gas 6.

Roll out the pastry to line a 28 cm, loose-bottom, fluted tart tin (re-form any leftover pastry into a ball and freeze for another time). Chill again for 10 min, then line with foil, add baking beans, and bake blind for 15 min. Remove the foil and beans, and return to the oven for 5 min. Reserve.

Make the filling. De-seed and slice the peppers, slice the onions, peel and crush the garlic.
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In a large frying pan with a lid, heat up the olive oil. Finely chop the anchovies, and fry for a minute or two until they start breaking down. Add the tomato puree, cool for 1 minute more.
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Add the onions, peppers and garlic, toss to coat, and fry gently for 2 to 3 min. After this time, add the balsamic vinegar and oregano, cover and turn the heat down to low. Cook gently, stirring every once in a while, until soft (about 10-15 min depending on the size of your pan). If you end up with cooking juices, cook uncovered for a further 2 min to dry out. Add salt and pepper to taste.
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Meanwhile, cut the chorizo into small pieces (about the size of chickpeas), and dry-fry in a non-stick frying pan until cooked (about 10 min). Set aside.

Assemble the tart: If serving straight away, scatter the pieces of chorizo evenly over the pastry case, and top with the onion and pepper filling. Bake for 15 min until piping hot. If you want to freeze it for later, cool all the elements separately then assemble when cold. Wrap in foil and cling film and freeze for up to a month. Bake from frozen at  200C/ fan 180C/ gas 6 for 30 min or until piping hot in the middle.

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Filed under Bakes, Buffet, Christmas, Mains, Savoury Tarts, Starters

The Post I Never Thought I Would Write: Christmas Pudding

Having grown up in France, Christmas pudding was an alien concept to me until a few years ago. I had heard tales of steamed puddings made months in advance, and containing some sort of animal fat, but I  just assumed it was one of those popular stories that have very little to do with reality. After all, us Frenchies are always ready to believe that our British friends would eat all sorts of weird concoctions… (Which is a bit ironic when you consider that we eat snails and frogs’ legs).

As it turns out though, the legend was true. I started coming across Christmas pudding recipes in all the food magazines I was buying during the run-up to my first Christmas in England. And there it was, among the numerous ingredients listed: shredded beef suet.  I won’t lie to you: my first reaction was made up of equal parts of disbelief and disgust. There was no way I was ever eating that!

hen one day, someone offered me a mince pie (another recipe I had never heard of before, more on this in a future post). I ate it, liked it, then discovered I had just consumed suet. And I had enjoyed it. This was when I decided that I would give Christmas pudding a go. But I wasn’t going to buy it; oh no, not I! I was going to make it. So off I went to the shops, I purchased a pudding basin, the dreaded shredded suet, and some brandy and set to work.

What I produced looked and smelt ok, but I had to wait a few weeks for Christmas to come round before I could taste it. In the meantime, I dutifully “fed” my pudding with more brandy at regular intervals, reasoning that even if it turned out to be revolting, it might at least get me a little bit tipsy…

The long-awaited day finally arrived, I reheated my pudding, and served it (not flambé, as I couldn’t find any matches). I took my first bite, and was instantly hooked. It was warm, rich, moist, had a lovely flavour, and yes, you could definitely taste the brandy. I did not tire of the leftovers either, in fact I was rather disappointed when we eventually finished it. Which is why I would encourage anyone to have a go at making this, especially if like me, you have a pre-conceived idea that it will be revolting.

 This is a James Martin recipe which I copied out from somewhere a few years ago (very, very vague credits, but credits nonetheless); I like it because of the ginger, which gives it a lovely, warm flavour. Enjoy!

Post-Christmas edit: I just thought I would let you all know that my family loved this pudding. Even my very sceptical Dad grudgingly admitted that it was “rather nice”. Not bad…

You will need (for 1×1.5l pudding):

175 g sultanas
175 g currants
70 g dried figs, chopped
50 g mixed peel
45 g glacé cherries, halved
50 g dried apricots, chopped
100 ml brandy
50 g stem ginger, chopped + 2 tbsp of their syrup
1 apple, grated
Juice + zest 1 orange
3 large eggs, beaten
125 g shredded suet
125 g fresh, white breadcrumbs
175 g light muscovado sugar
90 g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp mixed spice
Butter, for greasing

Method:

In a bowl, soak the sultanas, currants, figs, mixed peel, cherries and apricots with the brandy overnight.image

The following day, mix in a large bowl the ginger, syrup, apple, orange juice and zest, eggs, suet, breadcrumbs, sugar, flour and mixed spice. Mix in the soaked fruit.

Butter the pudding basin, fill with the mixture. Smooth the top and cover with a circle of greaseproof paper. Cover with a sheet of foil with a folded pleat down the centre, and secure it by tying it tightly with some string. Tie a loop of string on either side of the basin to act as handles.
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Stand the basin on top of an upturned saucer placed in a deep, large pan. Pour boiling water in the pan so it comes about a 1/3 of the way up. Cover and steam over a gentle heat for 5h, topping up with more water if necessary.

Cool the pudding in the pan, then remove foil and paper. Cover with cling film and store in a cool, dry place. Every so often, prick the surface with a skewer and drizzle a bit more brandy.

To reheat, steam for an hour or so.

To serve, heat up about 50 ml of brandy, pour over the pudding and light straight away with a match. Let the flames die down, then serve.

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Seriously Addictive Coconut Christmas Biscuits

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This is a traditional recipe from Lorraine, where I come from. A lot of people make these in the run-up to Christmas, and there are as many different recipes as there are families.

These biscuits are seriously addictive; I brought a tin-full to work, and they disappeared in about 5 minutes flat. In fact I barely had a chance to eat some myself!

Traditionally, the dough isn’t rolled out and stamped out with cutters. Instead, it is pushed through a meat mincer with a special attachment fitted, and comes out looking like this:
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Photo Credit

As I haven’t got the right equipment (yet), I had to get creative and decided to use cutters instead.

This is a rather coarse dough, so for best results stick to simple shapes when choosing which cutters to use. I used a heart-shaped one and a circle, and they turned out great, but fiddly snowflakes or animal shapes would come out with ragged edges.

You will need (for about 80 biscuits):

400 g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
250 g butter, very soft
2 eggs
250 g caster sugar
200 g dessicated coconut

Method:

In a large bowl, rub the flour, baking powder and butter together until you get a breadcrumb-like consistency. Mix in the coconut.

In a smaller bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar together, then add them to the flour and butter mix. Mix thoroughly using a large wooden spoon.

Let the preparation rest somewhere cool for 2 to 3 hours, covering the bowl with a tea towel (not in the fridge, you want cool not cold).

Preheat your oven to 200C/ fan 190C /Gas 6.

Roll out the dough in small sections to the thickness of a pound coin, and stamp out the shapes of your choice. Re-roll the trimmings and repeat.

Place on baking trays lined with baking paper and bake for 10 to 15 min or until nice and golden.

Cool on a wire rack then store in an airtight tin for up to 2 weeks.

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Filed under Bakes, Biscuits, Christmas